Project description

Health problems have plagued several Minnesota communities for years, having been exposed to wet waste generated from 3M’s nearby manufacturing plant. The chemicals found in common household products were dumped in the ground or flowed in the Mississippi River, contaminating drinking aquifers, causing dramatic increases in cancer, premature birth and infertility rates. This story explains the history of this problem, the corporate cover-up and the class-action lawsuits against 3M.

What makes this project innovative?

Even though the story’s focus is on the towns near 3M’s headquarters and plant in Minnesota, it gives a broader view of how pervasive PFAS chemical contamination is throughout the entire country. Step-by-step explainer maps and illustrations show both the geography of the problem as well as how little contamination can be considered a dangerous level. Background material yielded a huge amount of data to comb through—a good problem for any data journalism team to face. The combination of investigative reporting, information graphics, maps, photos and video came together to create a compelling narrative that puts a human face on this crisis.

What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?

In addition to the importance of the subject matter, the story has won other journalism and design awards.

Source and methodology

Bloomberg reporting, Minnesota Dept. of Health, Environmental Working Group, 3M’s web site, 3M internal memos, Minnesota’s lawsuit, expert witness report prepared for Minnesota, Minnesota Geological Survey, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Minnesota Metropolitan Council, EPA archives, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry

Technologies Used

QGIS, R, Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, Javascript

Project members

Christopher Cannon, Tiffany Kary, Cedric Sam


Additional links


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